Louisiana House will consider anti-‘Defund the police’ bills

House Committee approved two bills Monday

Louisiana Capitol Building
Photo by Julie O'Donoghue

The Louisiana House will consider two proposals aimed at making it more difficult for local governments and public higher education institutions to “defund the police” — a movement to shift government funding from law enforcement agencies to other services like mental health treatment, early childhood education and addiction programs. 

State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandra, proposed legislation that would allow state lawmakers to withhold public construction funding and other revenue from local government and public higher education institutions who cut their law enforcement budgets by 10 percent or more. State Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, also introduced a bill that would allow state lawmakers to cut funding to local governments that reduce their police budgets.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the measures Monday on a 13-6 vote and 14-2 vote respectively. Republicans tended to vote in favor of the measures and Democrats voted against them.

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The “defund the police” movement has gained traction across the country this summer after the high-profile killings of Black people by law enforcement officers, though there is no significant movement to reduce law enforcement budgets in Louisiana.

Harris mentioned efforts in Austin, Texas, and Seattle, Washington,  to “defund the police” but admitted he wasn’t aware of a similar attempt inside Louisiana. He said that student activists at Tulane University have been pushing to defund the school’s campus police, but Rep. Aimee Freeman –a New Orleans Democrat whose district includes Tulane — responded during the committee meeting that the university is “absolutely not” cutting its public safety budget.. 

Even if Tulane were going to “defund the police” on campus, neither Harris’ nor Crews’ bill would stop the school from doing so. The university is private and doesn’t receive support from the state government like public universities do.

Harris and Crews’ bills particularly rankled Black Caucus members, who are already upset about a scandal within the Louisiana State Police. Last week, the Associated Press reported on an  alleged recording of a state police trooper bragging about beating a Black man to death. The State Police allegedly covered up the alleged killing by reporting that Roland Greene’s’ injuries were the result of a car crash — not being beaten up by a state trooper. The man’s death is the focus of a federal civil rights investigation.

“This state is investigating the murder of an African American man by the state police that was covered up,” said Rep. Gary Carter, a Black Democrat from New Orleans. “It just seems to be a bad time to be bringing this legislation.” 

Harris responded that the alleged behavior of the state police was “incredulous.” Earlier in the hearing, Harris said anyone who “covered up” that beating of the Black man by state troopers should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

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But Carter went on to say that he thought Harris’ legislation was a publicity stunt, meant to get attention for his Harris’ congressional campaign in Louisiana’s 5th district. Harris is running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto.

Carter said he had sent Harris money for his campaign because, despite being in different political parties, Carter and Harris have had a good working relationship. But now, Carter wanted his money returned because of Harris’ proposed legislation.

“I want [that check] back,” Carter told Harris in the committee hearing Monday. 

“You have a right to your opinion. I still respect it. I still love you,” Harris responded. “You’re a colleague of mine, and I will have your check ready today.” 

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to tie Harris’ anti-“defund the police” efforts to various public policy measures they support.

Carter tried to amend Harris’ bill to protect funding for early childhood education and mental health services as well as law enforcement.  Rep. Dustin Miller, a Black Democrat from Opelousas, tried to insert a requirement for police training reports from law enforcement agencies. Republicans defeated both efforts.

Miller — visibly angry at the beginning of the hearing — also brought up the state police’s alleged beating of Black man to death and subsequent coverup of the crime. He said the Associated Press article about the incident made him cry over the weekend. Requiring police training that reduces such deaths is necessary, he told his colleagues.

“A 30-minute video? If it saves a life, [every police officer] should do it,” Miller said.